International students get themselves into trouble when they adopt tactics for penetrating the hidden job market and try to use them to get an edge in the traditional recruitment process. The two systems of hiring are like oil and water. Let me explain.
The traditional recruitment process (the visible job market) is the one that most international students think they have to follow to get a job: create a resume, submit it to online job postings, hope someone in HR sees it and likes it, go in for an interview along with your competitors, hope you’re better than everyone else, and wait for feedback on your status. In this system you embrace the role of job seeker, look for job openings, and follow the rules the company sets out for hiring people.
The hidden job market fills most of the open roles in the U.S. economy and operates completely differently. The way in is through generating connections with people in your field, building relationships such that they understand what you can do and think of you when people in their network need to hire, getting referred to managers and speaking directly with them about their open job. In this system you shed the role of job seeker, focus on relationships and allow peer referrals to find the jobs for you.
Readers of my book will know that I am a strong advocate for operating in the hidden job market – for reasons that I detail at length in my book and in my blog. Over the years, I’ve had some success convincing international students to spend the vast majority of their job search time at the bottom of the “iceberg,” and to embrace the networking that is required to operate there. But often people never fully let go of the traditional recruitment process. I get questions like:
These questions reflect an attempt to apply the relationship-focused approach of the hidden job market to the job-focused traditional recruitment process. Students who ask these questions are trying to short-circuit the traditional recruitment process (typically because they don’t fully believe that the hidden job market will generate opportunities for them). Here’s why the questions above suggest a misguided way of thinking:
“Can I network into a job posting that I saw?”
Not able to abandon the idea that job postings are a candidate’s true path to employment, the student wants to make a networking connection that he thinks will get him special treatment for a specific job opening he saw online. Unfortunately, unless you’ve got a strong existing relationship with someone on the inside, potential contacts aren’t interested in pushing your candidacy for a job posting – particularly if they don’t know you at all. Why would they risk their reputation making a referral for a stranger or casual acquaintance? You need to be relationship-focused to get that kind of support.
“What’s the best way to network with recruiters?”
Although the answer to this question is easy (be who they are looking for), trying to network with recruiters is another example of blending hidden market tactics with the visible market job search. With minor exceptions, people who try to build relationships with recruiters do it for one purpose – they want a job. Recruiters know this, and they don’t expect you to do much by way of mutual relationship building. But they do expect you, as a job seeker, to follow their rules – one of which is not to try to short-circuit the system by connecting directly with a manager. If you network with recruiters, you’re cutting yourself off from the decision-maker – the person you should have tried to bring into your network in the first place.
“When do I ask for a job”
This is an example of applying traditional job search tactics to the hidden job market. Again, the question reveals a “job-first” focus that undermines the relationship-building that drives the hidden job market. Within the hidden job market, you DON’T ask for a job. There is no need to because the system is already set up to direct good professionals to appropriate job openings. In my view, asking for a job puts pressure on your contact and undercuts your relationship. If the person doesn’t know you very well yet, they aren’t likely to risk their reputation referring you to one of their contacts as a potential new hire. If they DO know you well, then they already know that you’re looking for a job and will be able to make their own judgments on whether to refer you or not. Your asking about it won’t help!
My advice is focus on relationships and not jobs, and you’ll see the jobs come in! I know this is challenging, but shake your faith in job postings, recruiters and the traditional job search process!